Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Good article by teacher on rethinking homework

Here is an article by a teacher who has rethought homework. His comments are good and worth reading. I have a few comments of my own, regarding the points that he makes.

In his first point, Mr. Spencer talks about giving after school help to students who are struggling. I have no question that, in today’s environment, struggling kids go home with assignments they cannot manage. They stare at them blankly and end up getting zeros for the work they cannot done. So to move “homework” into the school with a teacher present, is a major step forward to helping kids out. But it is also important to keep in mind that people generally put their energies into the things that they do best. We ask, in fact demand, that children go to school and learn things they may find hard. To expect that they will give up time and stay in after school is over, and learn, is a large expectation. If we are going to ask them to stay after school, it is incumbent that the time be planned and well spent. I think a lot of “after school” help is unfocused. It comes at the end of the school day when the teacher may be tired and ready to go home, and may require that the student be able to articulate what he does not understand and finds hard to do. There may be several students there and the teacher may not have considered what each student needs before he has arrived. There is risk that the extra help is not helpful at all. Before acting on point one (a point with which I generally agree), it is important for the teacher to consider how that time will be used, and what is needed so that a short period of time with a tired student (and possibly a tired teacher) is truly productive. If the student does not experience the time as helpful, it will feel like a detention and become counterproductive.

It is also important when considering this point that some students are not going to come to the after school help session. Do we fail them? Or do we consider, educationally, how to best teach them (even if they learn less than other students) with the time we have them in class? This calls for a professional consideration of how to help, in class, students who lag behind.

The other point that generates a comment from me is Mr. Spencer’s last point, “Empower parents with the skills to push for authentic learning at home.” This sentence is followed by “Teach them …” I think Mr. Spencer’s point would have been stronger if he stopped with the first sentence. There may be some parents who are open to being taught, but parents are adults with lots of things to do. They know what they know, and that may be enough. So I would keep the emphasis on “empower,” which, for me, carries the notion that the parent is the one in charge of the home. If teachers accepted the fact that parents were the ultimate authorities on all matters in the home, they would have to rethink homework, in particular, and teaching, in general, with that concept in mind. Once teachers accept that they have no right to enforce behaviors in the home, they will adapt and come up with superior teaching techniques that bank, primarily, on the time they have with the students in their class.

Those points notwithstanding, this is a find article and worth your read.
For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers.


Joanna Reynolds said...

Hi Ken

I've been following your comments on Homework for quite some time now, and have always found them challenging in my own thinking about homework. I have just posted an outline of my new homework system (partly based on some of your thoughts), and I'd love to hear your opinion if you've got a moment!


eigerleadership said...

This is one awesome blog.
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